Book review: The Opposite of Success, Eleanor Elliott Thomas

A witty and charming debut about motherhood, friendship and work in contemporary times.
The Opposite of Success. Image is a black and white author's pic of a woman in a flowery blouse with glasses and shoulder length hair parted on the side, sitting with arms crossed on a table. She is smiling at the camera. On the right is a green and pink book cover with an illustration of a cheerless woman with her chin on her arm, behind a wine glass.

The Opposite of Success by Eleanor Elliott Thomas is an intensely relatable debut, filled with moments of comedy and charm. Though relatability is by no means a prerequisite of an enjoyable, well-crafted novel, in this case the humour and wit are enhanced by the likelihood that readers will see themselves in Lorrie and/or her best friend, Alex.

The novel follows Lorrie and Alex through a single, momentous day, culminating in the launch of Lorrie’s major work project. The day doesn’t go as planned and Lorrie’s increasingly reckless decisions make for some moments of laugh out loud hilarity and others that elicit a cringe of second-hand embarrassment. 

One of the most notable elements of The Opposite of Success is that it has a fat main character. Lorrie’s appearance enters the novel through a comment from one of her children, who tells her, ‘your bottom is sagging, your tummy is sagging, your bosoms are sagging’. Lorrie is conscious of the space her body inhabits in the world, as well as how her relationship with it can shape the way her daughters perceive their own bodies. When she tells her daughter, Ruthie, ‘it’s OK that I’m saggy, it doesn’t make me a bad person,’ she’s consciously challenging both societal views and those of her mother and her younger self. She’s consciously doing for her daughters what her own mother never could.  

Lorrie’s habit is to wear clothes that are ‘an apology for her body … to shield the eyes of her fellow citizens from the reality of her roly-poly form’. In a triumphant scene reminiscent of Claire Christian’s It’s Been a Pleasure, Noni Blake, Lorrie finds an outfit that ‘fit her flawlessly’ prompting her to think, ‘the woman in the mirror looked good’. It is a profound moment of self-acceptance and self-love.   

The events of the novel prompt Lorrie and Alex to contemplate their respective understanding of success and purpose. Lorrie finds fulfilment in her role as a mother and contentment in her predictable job and long, stable marriage. Her choices are anathema to Alex, who jumps from fling to fling, struggles to focus on her documentary project and cannot fathom bringing a child into a world besieged by the climate crisis. 

Read: Book review: Corners of Melbourne, Robyn Annear

Alex’s and Lorries’s arcs appear to demonstrate that there’s no one way to make a good, meaningful life in the mess of our modern world and that failure – like beauty – is in the eye of the beholder.

The Opposite of Success by Eleanor Elliott Thomas
Publisher: Text Publishing
ISBN: 9781922790385
Paperback: 272 pages
RRP: $32.99
Published: October 2023

Laura Pettenuzzo (she/her) is a disabled writer based in Naarm. Her words have appeared in SBS Voices, ABC Everyday, Mascara Literary Review and The Guardian. She is also a member of the Victorian Disability Advisory Council.